"I appreciate the church allowing me to do this," said Hopper, who has two grown children and is helping to raise a grandchild. "But if (the church) said no, I'd still say, 'Thank God I'm Catholic.' "
In fact, while the idea of a married priest is surprising to some, Hopper said the very idea of becoming a Catholic would have shocked him as a boy, growing up in Russell County in Southern Kentucky. "In a thoroughly Protestant part of the country, (Catholicism) was just not part of your radar," he said. He grew up in a small church in the Separate Baptists in Christ denomination and was baptized in the frigid December waters of Lake Cumberland.
Hopper, who married his high school sweetheart, Betsy, believed he was called to the Baptist ministry. But as he served a career in the Navy, he grew attracted to the Episcopal Church with its sacraments such as communion. Both Episcopalians and Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is spiritually present in the bread and wine, although they differ on the theological explanations, and the Episcopal Church was "safely Protestant" to him at the time. "Before, communion had been very special to me … a very profound way of remembering (Christ's death), but there wasn't a sense of spiritual presence," he said.
After leaving the Navy, he returned to Kentucky, attended two seminaries in Lexington, was ordained an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Lexington and served as pastor of a church in Covington for three years. He then served as a military chaplain for 12 more years and grew increasingly attracted to Catholicism. His wife and then he converted, as did his grown children and other relatives.
. . .
The divide between the churches has grown since the Episcopal Church's ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.
"When that broke, I was already halfway mentally there (to the Catholic Church) anyway," Hopper said. "But the Catholic Church's strong support of the traditional family, I have to admit was a strong part of what attracted me to the church." He said he was also a great admirer of Pope John Paul II's opposition to abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia as part of a "seamless" ethic on the dignity of life.
But he said he's grateful for his time in the Episcopal Church. "The journey became not something away from, but something toward," he said. "This was just the finishing of a journey that had started a long time ago."
Friday, August 26, 2005